Preached at Alger First UMC on 7/17/2016
When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:14-20)
Many of you know that I have a music degree from ONU. I decided on that course during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. As soon as I decided, I immediately began to look for an audition piece, because in order to be accepted as a music student at any university anywhere, you have to pass an audition on your primary instrument or voice, performing an acceptably difficult piece of music for the music faculty.
The piece I chose was simply called “Concert Etude for Trumpet and Piano,” written by a man named Alexander Goedicke. It was the hardest piece for trumpet I’d ever attempted in my 18 years of life, so I practiced this piece whenever I could. I lived and breathed this piece of music, because I so wanted to pass my audition.
When it came time for my audition, I went out on the stage in the Recital Hall in ONU’s music building, in front of the assembled music faculty, and played this piece. Obviously, I played it well enough, because I was accepted as a music student.
But a strange thing happened. The Goedicke Concert Etude is a popular piece in the trumpet player’s repertoire. Lots of high school students play the piece in their audition like I did. Several of my friends in ONU’s trumpet studio played the piece during our time at ONU. And whenever I hear this piece, to this day, I am transported right back into my 18-year-old self on the stage of the recital hall in front of the music faculty for my audition, remembering the nerves and terror and slight nausea that came with that. I can’t help it – That’s just how powerful this piece of music is.
Have you ever experienced something like this? Think of your five senses – Have any of them ever brought on this powerful kind of experience of recall? Maybe there’s a smell – a certain cigar, a certain flower, a certain perfume, a certain baked good – and whenever you smell it, you are right back in your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen, or your father is right in front of you, and you feel again all the emotions you associate with them – warmth and love and safety, perhaps. Or it could be more negative emotions – fear, annoyance, coldness.
Or maybe it’s a sound – maybe you hear a certain song and you’re right back at your senior prom, or you’re dancing your first dance with your spouse again at your wedding reception and you’re wrapped up in the love and excitement all over again. Have you ever had an experience like that? I think we all have.
Today, we’re continuing our series called Take This Bread, where we’re spending several weeks in taking a good hard look at this sacrament called Communion and investigating all of the meanings and value we might find at this table. On the first week, Amy Haines talked about Communion as Fellowship. Last week, Ethan Collins talked about Communion as an Action of the Holy Spirit. This week, we focus on our belief that in Communion, Jesus calls us to remembrance – and not just any remembrance, but a remembrance like I just talked about, where we are immersed in a past event by simply smelling a certain scent or hearing a certain song.
The passage read for you earlier is probably a well-known passage. So let me just briefly lay out the context of this passage and remind you of it. Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and he started teaching and working around Jerusalem. By the time we get to the portion of the story that was read to you, Judas had already betrayed Jesus. So we come to part of what we normally remember on Maundy Thursday – Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. They’ve gathered for the Passover meal – and I’ll explain a little bit about Passover in a minute – and Jesus takes the elements of this ritual meal and transforms them, the bread and the cup, to refer to himself. Then he starts telling the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” In remembrance of me – that’s what we’re looking at today. What did Jesus really mean by that – do this in remembrance of me?
If we look to the original Greek of this passage, we can find a clue as to what this passage might really mean. When Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me,” the Greek word that’s normally translated as “remembrance” or “remember” is anamnesis. Can you say that with me?
The word is normally translated as remember or remembrance whenever it is used in the New Testament, but that translation doesn’t do it justice. This is a different kind of remembering.
If I asked you to remember, say, your childhood home, you would probably do this: You would sit back, think for a minute, and start describing it to me. “The front door looked like this, the walls were such-and-such color, my room was here, the living room was over here, kitchen was over there, the back yard was big or small, there was this tree in the front yard that was perfect for climbing” and so on. That is remembering, as we understand it now. But it’s not anamnesis, what Jesus calls us to do at this table.
Anamnesis could be understood as “remembering by doing” or “remembering through action and ritual.” This is not just a mental recall. Anamnesis, what Jesus calls us to in this passage, is an immersing of yourself in the object or event you want to remember so much that it becomes an essential part of who you are – or we might better say in this case, that you become a part of the event you’re remembering, and it reshapes your life story. You remember something in such a powerful way that it doesn’t stay in the past; it comes into the present.
If we look at how the whole Bible talks about remembering we can see that remembering means something different than a simple mental recollection, something closer to anamnesis.
Remember the story of Noah? God told Noah to build and ark and bring his family and all those animals onto it, and then flooded the whole earth. After a while, Gen. 8:1 says “God remembered Noah, all those alive, and all the animals with him in the ark.” And so God made the waters recede because he remembered Noah.
When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, Scripture tells us that God remembered the covenant he’d made with their ancestors, and because of God’s remembrance, God called Moses through the burning bush to go liberate them from Egypt.
In the New Testament, Paul talks about “remembering the poor” in his letters. Obviously, Paul wasn’t just telling his churches and us today to simply recall that the poor exist – what’s the point of that? No, for Paul, to remember the poor meant that the poor became a life-changing concern.
Biblically, remembering is more than just mental recall and rehashing of facts. Remembering leads to action and life change. We have robbed remembering of a lot of its meaning, and if we’re ever going to come close to understanding the sacrament we celebrate at this table, we have to gain some of this ancient understanding of remembrance back.
With that in mind, the wider context around the Last Supper is important. The Last Supper is celebrated during Passover. And Passover is all about anamnesis, remembering through action, immersing yourself in memory.
A rabbi named Gamaliel – not the one in Acts – said this: “In every generation, let each [person] look on [themselves] as if [they] came forth out of Egypt.” In Passover, every Jew was called to remember the Exodus from Egypt as if it happened to them in their life, even though it was generations ago. That’s anamnesis.
And the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples was done in the context of Passover. So remembrance – anamnesis – was already the theme. Think of what Christ was really telling his disciples here in this Scripture and what this would have meant. “Do this in remembrance of me” – not just in remembrance of your liberation from slavery in Egypt, but in remembrance of Jesus – in anamnesis of me.
And when Jesus said this, I can imagine what they would have remembered. They would have remembered Jesus healing the blind, feeding the 5,000, making the lame walk and the blind see, crossing social boundaries and speaking to a Samaritan woman and welcoming a tax collector as one of his disciples.
They would have remembered Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God turning the world upside down. They would have remembered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the ridiculously huge ethical demands it makes.
They would have remembered Jesus turning water into wine at that wedding in Cana and rebuking the disciples for trying to keep the children away from him.
Think about this – they would have remembered the very moment when Jesus first called their name – called them to be one of his disciples, and they would have thought over the last three years at how drastically their lives had changed, all because of this man sitting before them who was calling the bread his body and the cup his blood.
And after Jesus died and rose again, and especially after he ascended to heaven, the disciples would’ve continued to remembering Jesus every time they ate this meal. But they didn’t just mentally recall Christ when he had been among them. Through this ritual meal that we now call Communion, the disciples remembered Christ into the present time and brought Jesus right into their present midst. And because of that, their lives would have been changed. Because they remembered Jesus, they would act more like Jesus, pray more like Jesus, serve more like Jesus, treat other people more like Jesus, and follow closer and closer after Jesus, all because of their determination to remember him through this meal. And the church has continued in this stream of anamnesis, of remembrance, all the way to today.
So what does all of this mean for us today? It means that whenever we celebrate Communion, we remember Christ into our lives in the present day. We don’t just remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples 2,000 years ago. At this table, we meet Christ today, right now, in the midst of our present lives.
The phrase “Never Forget” might be useful. This phrase is often used after national tragedies, calling us to “Never Forget” what happened, in the hopes that it will never happen again. Never Forget 9/11; Never Forget the horrors of American slavery; Never Forget the Holocaust.
This past decade or so has seen several events that could be added to the list: Never Forget the Virginia Tech shooting; Never Forget Sandy Hook; Never forget the Pulse Nigh Club shootings in Orlando; Never Forget those 5 officers in Dallas that were just gunned down a couple weeks ago. Specific groups or families might also have their own specific events they never want to forget: Never Forget Ferguson; Never Forget Trayvon Martin; Never Forget Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling.
They all come to the same thing. We want to “Never Forget” these horrible events so that they never happen again. You see how this is related to our remembrance in Communion? We remember these past events in a way that influences our actions in the present and future. We remember these events in a way that slowly changes our lives.
This is kind of what we do in Communion. We celebrate this ritual meal so that we never forget what Christ has done for us. And we remember it in a way that should influence our actions in the present and future. But we go beyond that – when we celebrate this meal, we remember Christ in a way that brings Christ into the present, right now. We do that through the ritual actions of this meal. But coming to the Communion table in remembrance, in anamnesis of Christ should affect our lives outside of this ritual.
Christ calls us to start our remembering at this table, but then to take our remembering, our anamnesis outside of the four walls of this church building, out among those around us. Remember Christ into the present by being Christ for those around you: Your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, the whole community of Alger.
We are called to remember Christ by being Christ to others. And we receive the strength and inspiration to do that around this table.